“Your path is at your feet whether you realize it or not. That is the most important thing that I will say but I will not enlarge upon it.” - Agnes Martin
I spent a good deal of time at the Dominique Lévy booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, standing as close as I could get to one of Agnes Martin’s paintings, three shimmering sky blue horizontal stripes alternating with four buttery yellow stripes. The borders between the stripes are penciled in with such a light touch that they squiggle over every tiny bump in the canvas. The acrylic washes are so diluted that they seem close to disappearing. And even though I was looking at the smallest details of the painting, I felt as if I were seeing the horizon.
I wanted to be in the painting.
Everything written about Agnes Martin mentions that she was schizophrenic, so I hereby join the crowd. But that painting was as joyful as it was daring.
The staff at the Dominique Lévy Gallery has been generous in helping me find an image of the painting. I decided not to include it here. To receive the gift that Agnes Martin offered, you have to be with the paintings, inches away from their surface.
A retrospective exhibition that was organized by the Tate Modern in London will be coming to New York in October, 2016. If you’re close by, put it on your calendar and go.
Or if you’re near Düsseldorf, the same exhibition is on view at the North Rhine Westphalia K20 museum until March 6, 2016.
Your path is at your feet.
Notes and sources:
Arne Glimcher started his gallery in Boston but quickly left for New York. Glimcher had good reasons for leaving Boston, but I wish he hadn’t. The city needed him then and it still does.
The painting that I saw in Miami was
c. 1999 - 2000
Acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
In a documentary made by Mary Lance in 2002 (the trailer is here), Agnes Martin said, “If you wake up in the morning and you feel very happy about nothing—no cause—that’s what I paint about.” I have never run across another artist who said anything that was so simultaneously revealing and obscure. Reading or hearing it, all I can think of is, “What could she possibly mean?” But then when I was in front of the painting, I knew.
For a moving personal account of Arne Glimcher’s relationship with Agnes Martin and for excerpts of her writings about her work, see Arne Glimcher, Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances, Phaidon, 2012. The book includes numerous careful reproductions, but still….
Here’s an interview with Glimcher about Agnes Martin’s work, in which he describes her paintings as “opulent.” They are.
Finally, see also Trevor Paglen, who says that although the painters of the sky J.M.W. Turner and John Constable are more obvious references, he also views Agnes Martin as an important influence on his photographic work.